Lean times in Lochan and that other coire

22 Nov

People have been out enjoying good early season winter climbing conditions since the start of November, but a few days of thaw put an abrupt stop to that until this weekend. Temperatures dropped sharply mid week and snow showers on light westerly winds created a superficial covering down to low levels. Anticipating white rock and frozen turf on the highest cliffs, Andy and I made for the Northern Corries with open minds and a large selection of candidate routes.

The morning glow reveals a cosmetic dusting of powder and a light hoaring of the highest buttresses

The morning glow reveals a cosmetic dusting of powder and a light hoaring of the highest buttresses. Plan D (aka Pygmy Ridge) follows the ridge crest just below the plateau rim in the centre-left of the photo

 

As soon the cliffs of Coire an t’Sneachda came into view it was clear a rethink and careful route selection was required. In our eyes the Mess of Pottage and Aladdin’s Buttress were unjustifiably black and only the higher, slabbier ground had a sufficient coating of powder and light hoar to be acceptable for a winter ascent. The cold, dry air and low wind speeds had precluded rime formation. We elected to climb Pygmy Ridge (IV, 5), a good early season choice with no reliance on frozen turf or consolidation.

The moon setting over Fiacaill Buttress. It's north easterly aspect resulted in what little westerly wind-transported snow from the plateau there was settling on the cliffs - one of the whiter parts of the coire that day!

The moon setting over Fiacaill Buttress. It’s north easterly aspect resulted in what little westerly wind-transported snow from the plateau there was settling on the cliffs – one of the whiter parts of the coire that day!

 

Our leisurely start and difficulties accessing the base of the route meant there was no time for photos, but we both enjoyed the awkward grooves and slabby cracks of the first pitch and excellent positions of the second – a worthwhile route!

We hoped conditions would be better next door so on Sunday we strolled into Lochan with even more open minds, fully prepared to go for walk if climbing wasn’t an option. From the approach slopes it was pretty clear both good and bad choices had already been made with teams on many lines. From below even the reliable early season routes on No. 4 Buttress didn’t look appealing so we abandoned our hope of a more challenging technical route and headed for the whitest thing we could see – Ewen Buttress (III, 4).

Moving up the pleasant groove on pitch 1 of Ewen Buttress. The turf had only a light covering of powder ensuring it hadn't remained insulated and had frozen solid

Moving up the pleasant groove on pitch 1 of Ewen Buttress. The turf had only a light covering of powder ensuring it hadn’t been insulated and had frozen solid, while light hoaring created an acceptable winter aesthetic. Photo credit: Andy Harrison

 

Ewen Buttress lies in a high and exposed position just below the coire rim and sits at an easier angle than the surrounding cliffs. These factors allow the route to hoar/rime and gather snow readily, but frozen turf is also required meaning too much snow is undesirable.

Andy sets off up the positive cracks on the crux section of the route. Plenty of gear and good hooks lead up and left into the continuation gully.

Andy sets off up the positive cracks on the crux section of the route. Plenty of gear and good hooks lead up and left into the continuation gully.

 

The tricky bit - having stepped left the search begins for useful placements to allow movement into the gully above

The tricky bit – having stepped left the search begins for useful placements to allow movement into the gully above. We felt it a shame this section wasn’t longer!

 

We topped out early with excellent views across to the teams climbing harder routes on No. 4 Buttress. We noted as well what a difference our vantage point made to our assessment of route conditions, as from above the wintery nature of some of the steeper lines was far more apparent – a good learning point.

Spectacular views from near the top of our route across to teams on No. 4 Buttress and away west above a cloud inversion

Spectacular views from near the top of our route across to teams on No. 4 Buttress and away west above a cloud inversion

 

Alasdair Fulton and James Sutton do battle with the stepped roofs of Bulgy while Ole Kemi belays from the chock-stone in Savage Slit

Alasdair Fulton and James Sutton do battle with the stepped roofs of Bulgy (VII, 7) while Ole Kemi belaying from the chock-stone in Savage Slit (V, 6) brought back great memories of our ascent of the route last season.

 

Alasdair Fulton cruising the off-width cracks and roofs on the crux pitch of Bulgy

Alasdair Fulton cruising the off-width cracks and roofs on the crux pitch of Bulgy – inspiring stuff!

 

About to settle down for some lunch and sunbathing on the plateau, looking west to the mighty Braeriach, Sgor Gaoith and beyond.

About to settle down for some lunch and sunbathing on the plateau, looking west to the mighty Braeriach, Sgor Gaoith and beyond.

 

Perfect air clarity above the inversion allows the view to extend from Sgoran Dubh Mor west to Creag Meagaidh and even Ben Nevis

Perfect air clarity above the inversion allows the view to extend from Sgoran Dubh Mor west to Creag Meagaidh and even Ben Nevis.

 

So despite the fickle early season conditions and having to resort to back-up routes, we still had a great opening weekend. Besides, when the weather and company is this good and nothing but fun was had, you can’t really complain can you?

 

One thought on “Lean times in Lochan and that other coire

  1. Hi. Great write-up and pictures. I’m belaying on Savage Slit (yes, great route) in your picture and had the exact opposite viewpoint to the action in the corrie, and I thought you had captured it really well.
    Ole

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